Polymer Clay Tutorial
The following summary is the breakdown of creating a polymer clay figure step by step. Have confidence and take your time. It’s easier to fix a mistake sooner than later so getting it right the first time is the way to go. If you get frustrated, take a break and try again with a fresh mind tomorrow.
About the figurine in this tutorial
The following subject is from a skeleton I had created nearly a year ago. It’s a good thing I kept him around. It took me one day to create the skeleton and warp it in tinfoil. From there, it took me another day to sculpt and bake him. So, all in all, it took two working days to create this figure from start to finish. I didn’t go into this one with a concrete idea or specific inspiration so I decided to aim for a basic, run of the mill orc since everyone loves orcs.
To make a polymer clay figurine you’ll need the following
- Craft wire
- Tin foil
- Polymer Clay
- Paint (optional)
- Glaze (optional)
Come fully armed with your imagination for it makes all things possible in polymer clay sculpture. Have a clear, rested mind.
Start with the craft wire creating the skeleton which is the structure of the figurine much like that of a human or animal. Be generous with the wire, doubling and tripling limbs to make them strong. This is especially important for larger, heavier projects.
Make sure to make room for the hips and shoulders as pictured. This is very important.
Making a skeleton out of craft wire
Tinfoil is a very important part of the process. Using tin foil to coat the skeleton helps the clay adhere to the wire. In fact, it’s hard for the clay to stick to the wire without tin foil. Tin foil also lightens the figure and allows you to use less clay.
Polymer clay safety warning
This particular modeling clay is PVC (Polymer Polyvinyl chloride) and has no actual clay minerals. It’s actually more plastic than true clay and it’s used for arts and crafts. This clay is not food safe so avoid making cups, dishes, and mugs out of it. When baking, keep the oven fan on and have adequate ventilation. Making visual figurines is fine but avoid making toys that children will play with. Children shouldn’t put polymer clay items in their mouths. Do not ingest polymer clay.
Children should not use the oven and must be supervised by an adult. Sharp tools are not for the use of children. Adults must supervise children during polymer clay sculpture, using tools, and baking in the oven.
A hot oven causes serious burns to people. Ovens are for adult use only. Use oven mitts to handle the cookie sheet after baking to avoid burns. A polymer clay sculpture is hot when it comes out of the oven. Allow the figure to cool down completely before handling.
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The most important element in polymer clay sculpture is the clay itself. It’s usually easy to work with but here are some issues I’ve found of the course of creating over a hundred figures.
- The longer you work a ball of clay, the warmer it gets. Sometimes to the point of melting and oozing making sculpting difficult. This also happens when mixing two colors to get a new color. The more you work it, the softer and mushier it becomes. I like to think I have a time limit when working a ball of clay. The more restructuring, the more pliable facial features become. You may notice on certain figures appear to have melted in spots. That’s not from the oven, that’s from overworking the mold. Avoiding this comes with experience, trial, and error.
- Yellow polymer clay is almost always drier than other colors for some reason. It’s workable but crumbles a bit more than other colors.
There are many tools in clay sculpture. While tools help in polymer clay sculpture, don’t let them intimidate you. Try them and use the ones you are comfortable with. You’ll be surprised to find a simple wooden toothpick and wooden match are two of the most important tools in polymer clay sculpture.
For this particular tutorial, I used only the basic tools including a toothpick, match, lollipop stick, modeling spatula, and my fingers.
Baking in the oven
Do not microwave and do not overbake. Baking time may vary depending on the brand of polymer clay you use. Generally speaking, bake polymer clay at 275 °F for 15 minutes per 1/4″ thickness. Please refer to the exact directions on your polymer clay packaging. I bake mine on a cookie tray covered with tin foil.
Polymer Clay Safety Warning
Reuse the tin foil later when you make your next skeleton. I use ceramic coffee mugs to steady figures while baking. Use oven mitts to remove the tray from the oven. Do not get burned! The cooling part of the process is most important because that’s when the clay hardens. Leave your figure to cool for a few hours before handling.
Painting polymer clay (optional)
Paint takes well to cooked, dry polymer clay. If you’re going to use paint, do it before you glaze! Painting your polymer clay figure is optional and I only use it for touch-ups. Paint also comes in handy if you’re not happy with the original color of part or all of the figure.
I’ve tried using white polymer clay for an entire project and then painted the parts separately after cooking. I was not happy with the result doing it this way because I’m not a particularly good painter. Instead, I use the appropriately colored clay at the time of construction. Some people like to do it the other way, and that works too, especially if painting is your strong point.
Glazing polymer clay figures (optional)
Glazing comes after cooking, drying, and painting is complete. It is the last step. Once glazing is complete, you can no longer re-cook the figure in the oven. It’s optional and has its advantages. Glazing makes the figurine stronger to some extent. It’s important not to overdo it with glazing. If you do, the figurine may remain sticky for a long time to come.
Follow the directions on the bottle of the glaze. Glaze made from different companies may have different directions. Glazing is especially important if you create something for outside, such as a garden gnome. Buy weather proofing glaze for such a project. For figurines that stay indoors, I only glaze certain ones depending on the situation. Some figurines look better without it while other more delicate projects need glazing for extra strengthening.